Updated September 24, 2023 - 7:42 pm
The game had been all but over for several minutes when A’ja Wilson went crashing into the courtside seats.
She’d already done everything the Aces required of her in their WNBA semifinal opener, but her teammates weren’t surprised to see the reigning MVP still chasing loose balls.
“From the tip to the buzzer, she’s going to be flying everywhere and being active,” guard Kelsey Plum said. “That’s just who she is.”
Wilson emerged from the sideline unscathed, and her 34-point performance led the top-seeded Aces to a 97-83 win in Game 1 of their best-of-five series against the No. 4 Dallas Wings on Sunday in front of 9,784 fans at Michelob Ultra Arena.
Wilson, the two-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, also had four blocks and two steals to finish the game plus-26 in 34 minutes.
Plum added 25 points and five 3-pointers for the Aces. Guard Jackie Young scored 19, and guard Chelsea Gray had 13 points. The Aces shot 53.6 percent from the floor and outscored the larger Wings 46-40 in the paint.
The Aces pulled away in the third quarter, outscoring the Wings 26-12.
“I tell them when they stink, and I tell them when they’re great,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said. “And they were great.”
Guard Satou Sabally, recently named the 2023 WNBA Most Improved Player, had 16 points, seven assists and seven rebounds for Dallas.
Game 2 is at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Michelob Ultra Arena.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
1. Rebounding battle
All week leading up to Game 1, Hammon and her team said the series was going to be dictated by whoever took control on the boards. Dallas outrebounded the Aces 36-25 during the Wings’ lone regular-season win in the season series July 7.
The Aces trailed 18-15 in the rebounding battle after two quarters Sunday but responded to Hammon’s halftime pleas and finished with a 36-29 rebounding advantage. Young had 10 rebounds to lead all players, while Wilson grabbed eight and center Kiah Stokes had six.
“Becky cussed us out at halftime,” Wilson said. “We had to wake up.“
2. Starters vs. depth
Hammon has always played a short rotation, never really going beyond seven players this season in big games. Ahead of Game 1, however, Dallas coach Latricia Trammell promised to stick with her bench and rely on the Wings’ depth.
Trammell’s words proved true, as she rolled out a nine-player rotation for the first half. Dallas’ bench outscored the Aces’ reserves 27-4 as center Kalani Brown and guard Odyssey Sims scored 10 points each for the Wings.
It didn’t matter. The Wings were unable to keep up with Hammon’s shorter rotation, as the Aces starters were all plus-12 or better despite playing heavier minutes.
3. Aces outrun Wings
The Aces and Wings love to play in transition. Hammon’s team averaged 12.8 fast-break points during the regular season, second in the league. The lone team ahead of the Aces was Dallas, at 13.1.
However, the Aces set the tone in Game 1, outscoring the Wings 17-10 on fast-break points. Dallas scored only four transition points in the second half.
The Wings had opportunities. The Aces turned the ball over 16 times, but surrendered only 14 points off their giveaways. Dallas, by comparison, had 12 turnovers that led to 21 Aces points.